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Pharma firms paid Italian doctor to promote opioid drugs

Published on 29/05/19 at 12:39pm

Opioid drugmakers paid an Italian pain doctor to promote opioid painkillers as a treatment for chronic pain, Italian prosecutors say.

Mundipharma (the international arm of OxyContin drukmaker Purdue Pharma) and German firm Grünenthal paid prominent pain doctor Guido Fanelli hundreds of thousands of euros to promote opioid drugs in Italy.

Pharmaceutical companies including Mundipharma and Grünenthal channelled sums of €464,000 and €640,855 respectively into businesses owned by Fanelli, who was chief of the anesthesiology and pain therapy department at Maggiore Hospital in Parma.

Meanwhile Fanelli, who called himself the father of a 2010 law which made it easier to prescribe opidiods in Italy, started meeting with executives from Mundipharma and Grunenthal, and Italian companies including Molteni and Angelini, as he began to draft the law in 2009.

The Italian doctor later wrote articles, organised conferences and helped counter government warnings against opioids, according to prosecutors. The promotional tactics used were the same as those used to boost sales of opioids in the United States.

In promoting opioid painkillers Fenelli published pro-opioid papers, organised a conference described by prosecuters as ‘upside down’ in which pharmaceutical companies were given the power to choose the speakers and subjects, and assisted a non-profit in hosting a 16-city roadshow on the benefits of opioids as a treatment for chronic pain.

“They’re using the same playbook that worked in the United States despite knowing that it led to a public health catastrophe,” said Andrew Kolodny, executive director of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing.

Louis Goss

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